Context îs everything. Each day as I ponder my contribution for the Advent Word ministry, I like to check to see how my initial ideas conform to the scripture from which the day’s word was chosen. So today, my first thought was that most discussions would probably focus on our need to repair ourselves–personal habits, behaviors, and relationships–a penitential kind of reparation as preparation appropriate to the discipline of Advent.
But then I turned to the scriptural reference and found an entirely different focus, one that fits very well with the most important themes I have been pondering in my daily posts. The surprising–and inspiring–context of today’s word comes from Isaiah 61, the first several verses of which present God’s intentions
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Verses 1-3a)
We are not charged in these verses with self-improvement. Instead, we hear repeated the good news of our loving God’s promise to heal and comfort us in whatever afflictions beset us. That promise continues with the best news of all–that God will enable us to use our suffering and our brokenheartedness as blessings to others. Note that “they” in the following passage are the same ones referred to in the previous verses–the oppressed, the prisoners, those who suffer, and and those who mourn:
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. (Verses 3b-4)
It is we, the blessed recipients of God’s favor, whom he promises to use to repair the brokenness in the world around us. My we accept that sacred duty as one of the lessons of this Advent.